Black Sesame Mochi

For those of you who don't know what mochi ice-cream is, mochi is a Japanese ice cream very much in the shape of a ball consisting of rice dough on the outside (the mochi) with ice cream in the center. The ice cream at the center could be any flavor but the very first mochi ice cream I ever had and saw was the green tea mochi ice cream, I believe this to be the original mochi ice cream.

Maeda-En is a popular Japanese ice cream maker and produces containers of green tea ice cream, azuki bean ice cream (red bean) and of course different flavors of mochi ice cream.  Maeda-En is my usual Japanese go-to brand, I've found it the best thus far in quality and flavor.
Craving ice cream which doesn't happen too often, I walked over to my local Korean store with Mr. Borscht and raided the ice cream freezer section, we walked back home with three boxes of ice cream: a box of green tea mochi ice cream, a box of red bean popsicles and a box of black sesame mochi ice cream.  The first two I've had countless times, the last however... black sesame mochi, I've never had before.

For those of you who grew up eating creamsicle and otter pops, or drumsticks and Baskin Robins may be thinking in horror 'red bean ice cream?!' or 'black sesame ice cream?!'- 'WTF?!' Fortunately I grew up eating red bean ice cream and green tea ice cream, my palate has been trained to understand that ice cream doesn't have to be all sweet and all sugar to be a treat from a very young age.  This isn't to say that if you've never had these types of ice creams before that you wouldn't like them, it just might be a little odd at first... but c'mon, how can any ice cream be bad?  And besides, aren't you the least bit curious about this so-called black sesame mochi?

So let's get on with it!

First off, the Black Sesame mochi ice cream box says it is gluten-free, and so it is when I checked on the ingredients, except that the facility also uses the same machines to process soy and other things... so maybe it's not completely gluten-free, but if you're a lenient gluten-free eater (like moi) than this should be okay.

The rice dough dusted with powdered sugar  is moist, softy and doughy, the texture of biting into the dough and through the ice cream to get a bit of each is exciting and pleasant to the senses.  The sweet doughy texture along with the cold semi-firm ice cream to balance it off is a large part of what makes mochi a popular ice cream treat.  The flavor of the green tea mochi ice cream of which I'm accustomed to is light and fragrant to the palate and the nasal cavity, the green tea mochi builds in it's flavor slowly, gradually- very much like green tea: subtle at first and then a bit stronger later.  The black sesame mochi is quite different in comparison.  The flavor of black sesame is undeniable and hits hard with a BANG!  But not unpleasantly, instead excitingly. Full flavored black sesame as if it had been toasted to release the flavors before being introduced into the ice cream, the flavor is nothing less than exciting and mysterious- I strongly urge to give this mochi flavor a try, IT'S A MUST!  And I guarantee that if you love your green tea mochi you will love the black sesame mochi as well... dare I say "maybe even more?"

A Splatter Guard To Keep The Stove-Top Grease Free

Cleaning the stove is always something I dread doing but cleaning up an oil-splattered and thus greasy stove top is a pure nightmare for me.  As a preventative measure and trying to keep my stove as clean as possible I purchased a splatter guard.  Splatter guards can range anywhere from a few dollars to $80 (and probably even more).  And though I'd love nothing more than to keep the grease from splattering I'm simply not willing to spend more than a few dollars for my splatter guard, I suppose a part of me believes that while you can prevent your stove-top from getting completely greased out, it's pretty much impossible to keep it from happening completely.  So I opt to purchase a pretty generic splatter guard and it works quite well, while it may not keep it completely free of splatter I have to say it does reduce it by 90%, which is enough to keep me happy.  I'm all smiles.

Cooking At Home: Russian sides

I don't call him Mr. Borscht for nothing, my husband hails from Russia and sometimes his Russian taste-buds gets kick'n and I find myself whipping away in the kitchen to get those Russian dishes on the table.  First, let's get one thing straight, I only know how to make a handful of Russian dishes, some I find easier than others and some dishes are more along the lines of being Russian-inspired rather than actual Russian dishes, but I try and Mr. Borscht seems to like them, he'll often comment on my Russian-inspired dishes, "this is kind of like a Russian salad I used to have back..." <You get the drift, right?

On my latest home cooking endeavor I prepared a faux-Russian dinner for Mr. Borscht consisting of a few sides, today's post covers two of the Russian sides that I think you'll be able to appreciate.

The Traditional Russian Beet Salad

                     Salt & Pepper
                     1/2 c mayonnaise
                     1 c chopped walnuts
                     2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
                     5-6 sm-med red beets

You will also need.... A grater with large holes

STEP 1 Boil the beets by putting cleaned beets (not yet peeled) into a pot large enough to hold the beets along with water that covers the beets fully.  Bring the water to a boil then lower the heat to medium and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes.  In 20 minutes check with a fork if the beets can be pierced easily with the fork tines, if not, continue to boil until the fork can easily pierce the beets.

I find that boiling beets is the simplest way of cooking them and peeling them although probably not the most delicious way to cook them, I find that boiling often diminishes the flavor of the beets considerably.  However, if you're willing to go balls out for that full beet flavor here's how you do it...

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 360 degrees F
2.  Trim and scrub beets (but do not peel)
3.  Rub them in olive oil and arrange the beets on a baking sheet in a single layer
4.  Roast the beets in the pre-heated oven for 1-2 hours (beets are ready when easily pierced with a fork)

STEP 2 Once the beets are done boiling (or roasting), allow them to cool down.

STEP 3 Once the beets are cooled enough to handle with your hands, peel the beets.  If you've boiled the beets you should be able to easily peel away the skin with your hand.  If you're finding this hard to do use a speed-peeler.

STEP 4 Grate the peeled beets on the largest hole available on your grater.

STEP 5 Once all your beets are grated add the 1/2 c of mayonnaise, black pepper to taste, 2-3 pinches of salt and garlic cloves (minced or squished).  Mix this all together thoroughly and watch as the mixture becomes a pretty pink.

I like to add the mayonnaise in slowly starting with just a heaping spoonful, call me crazy but I don't like the idea of just dumping a 1/2 cup of mayonnaise into my food, I keep adding the mayonnaise until fulfilled which is usually a little less than 1/2 cup, but put however much mayonnaise you find tasty.

STEP 6 Fold in the chopped walnuts.  

Some people like more walnuts, some people like less, I like more so I add about a cup of chopped walnuts into my beet salad, but use less or none if you like!  You can always get creative and add a different type of nut instead if that's your thing, perhaps golden raisins might be nice for a touch of sweetness.

STEP 7 Lastly, taste test and season to taste if needed.

The Roasted Eggplant Dip, inspired by other Russian dips

                        1 med eggplant
                        2 bell peppers
                        1 red onion
                        Olive oil
                        Salt & Pepper
                        1 clove of garlic (minced or squished)
                        1-2 Tbsp tomato paste

You will also need... A food processor fitted with a steel blade

STEP 1 Chop into 1 inch cubes the red onion, bell peppers, and eggplant.  Place the chopped vegetables all together in a bake pan large enough to hold the vegetables in a single layer.

As you can see from the above picture I don't have a bake pan large enough to hold all the vegetables in a single layer and so had to use two smaller bake pans instead.  If the bake pan is not large enough to hold vegetables in a single layer the vegetables will not brown properly (as mine failed to do, as seen in the picture below- it still tasted great though! )

STEP 2 Coat the chopped vegetable with olive oil until they are moderately coated (about 4 Tbsp), and toss the vegetables with 2-3 pinches salt and 1-2 tsp pepper.

STEP 3 Roast the vegetables in a 350 degree F preheated oven for 45 minutes, toss once midway through.  Once the vegetables are done roasting allow them too cool for easier handling.

As you can see from the picture above I used yellow onions instead of red onion. Do try to use red onions, the end result will have a natural sweetness from the red onions that you cannot get with yellow onions.  And as for bell peppers, in my experience red and green bell peppers have the best flavor for this recipe.

STEP 4 Once the roasted vegetables are cool enough to handle, put them into the food processor and process away into the consistence that you like best.

I like Roasted Eggplant Dip that is a bit smoother with just a little bit of chunkiness, I find this texture to be more easily spread on bread, but if chunkier is the texture you like best then by all means go for chunkier.

STEP 5 Add the garlic (minced or squished), tomato paste, salt and pepper and incorporate thoroughly.

Once again let your taste buds do the talking, taste a little bit and if you want to add more tomato paste, do so.  If you want to add a bit more salt, do so.  And if you desire a lot more garlic kick than add a second clove of garlic.

When I serve the Roasted Eggplant Dip I like to top it off with a bit of Hungarian Paprika which I find adds a pleasant smokey flavor and with a side of toast points, but if you like freshly cut baguettes instead... go for it.

And there you have it.  Two Russian sides you can try out.  Enjoy!

Cafe Verona, where simplicity is key

Tucked away on the corner of La Brea and 1st is a little Italian restaurant called Cafe Verona.  Walk through the plant archway and enter into a quaint, romantic, ever-so-charming spot filled with outdoor seating surrounded by lush greenery.  I've only ventured to Cafe Verona for breakfast and brunch but sitting in a little booth awaiting my brunch today I look around and see twinkle lights not yet turned on for it is too bright out, and I think how beautiful it must be in the evening.  At the table across from me sits a couple chattering between bites of their delicious looking panini, the table right next to me sits four girls chattering away sipping on mimosas while they too await for their food to arrive.  Yes, it's that kind of place, a place where girlfriends get together and couples have brunch- how delightful it all is.  And even with La Brea and its many cars whizzing by the city seems so far away.

Cafe Verona is dog friendly and they sit quietly, sleepily next to the tables, each dog has a waterbowl filled with water, I could have sworn I saw a poodle on the other side with ice in his.

When the food finally arrives, and I say "finally" because it does take a bit of time, it always has I've never known Verona to be otherwise but this never really bothers me, good ambience (and this, Cafe Verona does have) makes for good happy conversations.

Mr. Borscht's Salmon Bagel plate drew a helpless "Ohhh" from my mouth, from the moment his plate was set I couldn't help but amorously eye the already creamed bagel, sliced red juicy tomatoes and the beautifully laid smoked salmon sprinkled with capers and topped with thinly sliced red onions.  If only all salmon bagels came this way.

I on the other hand who ordered the Quiche Piemontese was expecting to see a small plate with a simple square piece of quiche, as I often see it done at most other restaurants, but once again the plate was eye-poppingly laid out and presented, simple no doubt with cucumbers, quiche and mashed sweet potatoes all sitting in their respective corners... but their flavors were anything but simple. Although only a few ingredients went into creating the quiche and mashed sweet potatoes the results were heavenly.  The large sliced cucumbers were topped with cucumber dill yogurt which accented perfectly the fresh juicy cucumbers.  The sweet potato mash tasted of sweet potato mash with a texture to die for and was topped with sour cream, and while one might imagine sweet potato mash as being sweet it was less so and this made it quite delectable.  

The Quiche Piemontese consisted of spinach and mushrooms, neither of the featured ingredients were too overwhelming and blended quite nicely to create a mild yet delicious and large (I should add) quiche.  Unlike most other quiche I have tasted this quiche was crustless and while I do very much like the crust on everything especially on quiches I cannot say that a crust would have made the Piemontese any better.

The Piemontese itself is not the best quiche I've ever had but I have to say that the presentation of the platters at Cafe Verona is something to see, rustic, simple and yet... charming, very much like the ambience.  When it comes to rating the food of Cafe Verona it is definitely above average and even some the best I've had, the ingredients are simple, none of the platters seem to take on too much extravagance but I think that's the beauty of this place, sometimes less is more, and Cafe Verona is definitely a restaurant where one can agree that, "yes, less is definitely more".

Total Damage:  $23.00 -/+

Mushroom Spinach Quiche
Lox Bagel

Cafe Verona
201 S. La Brea
LA CA 90036
(323) 934.6142

Graffiti Sublime Coffee

A new coffee cafe stands in the place where Sonora Cafe used to be on La Brea Blvd.  Sonora Cafe has long been closed and the lot vacant.  But no more does the lot stand in limbo, it has been taken over by Graffiti Sublime Coffee, a coffee cafe that stands solidly and shiningly in the thrones of modernism.  Armed with smiling and informative baristas trained in the "Intelligentsia" way of making coffee, this new coffee cafe is worth visiting, not only for it's great coffee, and modern decor but also for it's yummy treats which has a common theme of taking old favorites and making them into adult-friendly takes.

The main colors of the cafe is black and white and takes on a minimal approach to interior decor.  Be forewarned that is hard not to go "ohhhh" and "awww" upon first walking in through their doors.

The much asked for Brother Charlie is back... with his funny faces!

The Mocha, my usual choice of order when out for coffee is made to perfection at Graffiti Sublime Coffee.  While I tend to like my mochas on the sweeter side with full chocolate flavor I was still able to appreciate and notice the greatness of the traditional mocha here at Graffiti.  The mocha is smooth and subtle, the quality of the beans used here is noticeable.

Fantastic eye-popping treats such as the Butter Nutter, a take on old favorite, Nutter Butter, is hard not to order simply for a taste.  Large peanut butter cookies larger than the palm of your hands sandwiches a creamy not-to-sweet peanut butter.

Also the large TKO Baked Orea, OMG.

But what I couldn't hold-back on was trying Graffiti's larger than life macaroons, "pistachio please". The crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside pastry sandwiches a whipped cream filling (opposed to the marzapan fillings I'm quite used) makes for a fun, exciting and indulgent pleasure to your palate.  Once again not too sweet with pistachio flavoring and the whipped creamy filling.  I do love my traditional macaroons however and so will try the Butter Nutter instead next time, even so if curiosity befalls you regarding their macaroons I would not suggest foregoing it, it is quite a tasty treat.

The lot that Graffiti sits on is large, and the seating inside the cafe a plenty.  There is outdoor seating should you want that, seating near the fireplace, seating nooks, counters, booths and tables.  Armed with free wireless you can feel free to grab a TKO Baked Orea and a latte, sit in a booth and work on your laptop.  Even with the modern minimal take in the interior decor there's a warm vibe about the place, maybe it is the friendly baristas and the easy-going atmosphere, whatever it is, it's totally working.  Don't hesitate to walk in through their doors to try a mocha or latte and maybe even voice a warm welcome to the new coffee cafe in town.

Total Damage:  $9.00 -/+

Pistachio Macaroon

Graffiti Sublime Coffee
180 S. La Brea
LA CA 90036
Open 7am-10pm, 7 days a week!

El Coyote, LA's Version of Mexican Food

I've passed by El Coyote numerous times, the parking lot is always full and on more than one occasion there were customers milling about the front door and the place has been around for as long as I can remember, so naturally I've wondered if the place was really that good, it looked authentic enough from the outside.

So one day as Mr. Borscht and I headed down Beverly going back home from a full day of running errands we decided to give it a try.  We were sat immediately and looked in glee at the strung up twinkle lights and eclectic decor of vintage hanging lamps and colorful plastic animal decor, the waitresses all wore traditional colorful mexican dresses, all mounting to a fun site and interesting atmosphere.

Complimentary chips and salsa were served immediately upon sitting down, the chips were great but I was not taken with neither of the salsas, one was chunky and sweeter, tasting more of tomato sauce while the other salsa was slightly watery and tasted more of a roasted flavor, neither one of the salsas stood out in particular and there was a distinct lack of true flavor.

Mr. Borscht ordered the Ranchero Enchilada which was described in the menu as including salsa ranchera, green chilies and sour cream.  The enchilada was one regular portion of enchilada covered in ranchera sauce, cheese and green chilies that came with a side of sour cream.  Apparently the ranchera sauce is the main feature of this enchilada dish but I found it hardly mouth-watering.  It tasted of enchilada, somewhat, underneath all the ranchera salsa and cheese, but once again I found it to lack true flavors.  The ranchera salsa is average in taste and so was the enchilada, nothing to boast about and also nothing to order again.

I opted to get a combo that included Vegetarian tamale and Chile Relleno, the combo also came with a side of rice and beans.  The combo looked delicious... but looks can be deceiving.  The food wasn't bad but it wasn't anything special either.  Once again everything lacked true flavor, for example, the vegetarian tamale which was buttery in texture tasted too much of corn and nothing of anything else, the rice and beans were on the drier side (as if it had been over-cooked or more likely heated too long) and sadly the chile relleno which I was much excited about and was beautiful in presentation lacked the full robust flavors of green chile.  My only conclusion to the sad tasting green chile was that the main ingredient, the green chile, was not of good quality and therefore lacked the delicious flavor of green chile.  The green chile at El Coyote doesn't stand a chance compared to the green chile in the burritos at Cactus (a mexican food shack) also on Beverly which has the most amazing Chile Relleno Burritos and for half the price too.

To sum it up, El Coyote is what I would call a Californian faux-mexican restaurant.  The food served is indeed mexican but most definitely lacks the essence and full robust flavors of real mexican food resulting in a very sub-par experience.  So if you're craving real mexican food El Coyote is one place I wouldn't suggest going to fulfill that need.

Total Damage:  $18.00 +/-

1 #5 Chili Relleno & Tamale combo
1 Ranchera enchilada

7312 Beverly Blvd.
LA CA 90036
(323) 939.2255

Blue Jam Cafe, gluten-free risotto for brunch

Ordering the Brunch Carbonnara at Blu Jam Cafe made me think of how so many people say, "you can't eat anything when you're going gluten-free"< so NOT TRUE!  Blu Jam Cafe's Brunch Carbonnara would shame these people for saying such things.

The Brunch Carbonnara is a gluten-free risotto, made with a mixture of rice and noodles.  The brunch side of things comes into focus with the bits of bacon and the killer poached eggs that oozes creamy yoke.  What else can I say about the 'absolutely perfect in every way' brunch risotto other than it just became my favorite dish on the Blu Jam menu?  Not much really, except to definitely give it a try the next time you're there, you won't regret it< and I don't say this often.  The buttery, light flavored, bacon-salty, egg-adorned risotto will ring positive notes on every kind of palate.

Total Damage:  $13.00 +/-

1 Brunch Carbonnara (gluten-free)

Blu Jam Cafe
7371 Melrose Ave.
LA CA 90046
(323) 951.9191

Natto, the unpopular japanese soy bean

Natto: a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis.  - Wiki

Pictured above is the Natto handroll served at Noshi Sushi on Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles.  I absolutely love natto but you probably won't hear that from many people.  The natto beans which are fermented smell like stinky socks and may even leave a similar after-taste in your mouth although in my opinion eating natto really isn't half as bad as it smells, instead the taste is a tad bitter, pungent, nutty with slight saltiness and the texture slimy and gooey, which is most probably the reason for it's unpopularity in Japanese restaurants, natto is not even listed on the Noshi Sushi menu although the restaurant does have it in stock to serve, simply ask them.

I often find that most Japanese sushi restaurants do not have natto and so when I do find a Japanese restaurant that does serve it it's a reason for me to get very excited!  I had two in one night!

Taste, smell and texture aside natto is very nutritious and has many valuable healthy aspects.

Though I would never ask anyone to eat natto, only because I'm sure pretty sure what their reaction would be, if you're adventurous and want to risk trying something new (and for $2.50 a handroll @Noshi Sushi I don't see why not) I would say give it a try.  And to be honest the chances you'll like it is close to zero but it would be a rather interesting and unique experience I'm sure.  Natto is one of the oldest food in Japan dating back to Ancient Japan, in this way you can't get any closer to Japanese history.

Young Kyung, THE best Korean-Chinese Food in LA

If Mr. Borscht and I are feeling asian, specifically a want for Korean-Chinese food, we go to Young Kyung, our go-to Korean-Chinese food restaurant.  The popularity of this hole-in-the-wall restaurant is ever-growing it seems and you can be expected to wait 15 minutes or so if you decide to visit during dinner time.  The secret to our success?  Go before dinner hours, on our latest visit we arrived at 5:00 pm and was able to get a table right away, plus half the restaurant was empty so it is quite a bit quieter and more private than usual (not that ever gets too loud).

The service is good in that it is very direct and frank, there is no icing on the cake here when it comes to service the waitresses are there to do their job and they do it well, and with having to fullfill the services of many large tables one doesn't expect them to smile and go through small-talk.  I couldn't have more respect for the staff at Young-Kyung where speaking Korean, Chinese and English seems to be part of the qualification and then some Japanese- I find it absolutely amazing when I hear them go from Korean right into Chinese.

And while the atmosphere may not look like much, the food is great here.

Mr. Borscht and I often come with large parties of five or more to sit down at a large round table and order many dishes to be served family style.  However when it's just me and Aleksey we do it simple, ordering a noodle dish (to take over the function of rice) and one dish to serve as a side- the simplicity of our two-person meals is the best way, in my opinion, to eat at Young Kyung.

We usually order a plate of fried bits of pork that comes with a dipping sauce (which is one of the more popular dishes at Young Kyung) but on this day we decide to go for the Spicy Fried Shrimp which would probably be more suitable to you if wanting something slightly sweeter, tangier and flavorful.  The spicy fried shrimp has a beautiful crunchy texture on the outside and is topped with sweet gooey sauce that consists of green onions, chili peppers and bits of carrots and peas.  And while the amount of chili peppers in this dish may make you feel the dish may not be for you, it really isn't, in all honesty, that spicy, just don't be reaching for a chili pepper to munch on.

Mr. Borscht and I usually split the black-bean noodle dish (pictured above, appropriately known as Ja-Jang-Myun), splitting noodles is a common practice among customers here (TIP: if planning to split a noodle dish let the waitress know and she will split it for you, else you may have a very hard time doing it yourself).  The black-bean noodles consists of noodles with a semi-sweet sauce that contains a chunky texture from the diced bits of onions, zucchini, carrots and peas; a very popular dish in Korea and it seems, in China too?

Another popular Korean noodle dish is the spicy noodle soup (pictured below, appropriately known as Jang-Pong).  This soup contains spicy broth with not only noodles but squid, onions and green onions.  The flavor is mild yet pleasant, if you can stand the heat that is, but to be honest I never found this soup to be too overwhelmingly spicy, does make your nose run though! - That's good in my book :)

If your a first-timer at Young Kyung my suggestion for a proper traditional introduction would be to order the black-bean noodles with the fried shrimp.  And if you're dining alone I'd think twice and ring up a friend to dine with, the dishes tend to be too large for one person to finish, then again, leftovers doesn't seem like bad idea either.

Total Damage:  $32.00 +/-

1 Fried shrimp
1 Black beam sauce noodle
1 Spicy noodle soup

Young Kyung
3100 West Olympic Blvd.
LA CA 90006
(213) 487.6154


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